|It remains to tell of my latest visit to the "The Stones" [as the temple is called by the natives]. I had resolved to go once in my life with the current or crowd to see the sun rise on the morning of the longest day at that place. This custom or fashion is a declining one: ten or twelve years ago, as many as one or two thousand persons would assemble during the night to wait the great event, but the watchers have now diminished to a few hundreds, and on some years to a few scores. The fashion, no doubt, had its origin when Sir Norman Lockyer's theories, about Stonehenge as a Sun Temple placed so that the first rays of sun on the longest day of the year should fall on the centre of the so-called altar or sacrificial stone placed in the middle of the circle, began to be noised about the country, and accepted by every one as the true reading of an ancient riddle. But I gather from natives in the district that it is an old custom for people to go and watch for sunrise on the morning of June 21. A dozen or a score of natives, mostly old shepherds and labourers who lived near, would go and sit there for a few hours and after sunrise would trudge home, but whether or not there is any tradition or belief associated with the custom I have not ascertained. "How long has the custom existed?" I asked a field labourer. "From the time of the old people - the Druids," he answered, and I gave it up.
At about 2am he goes to find a few hundred people already waiting, and the road to Amesbury looking like a 'ribbon of fire' from all the cyclists pedalling in.
Altogether about five to six hundred persons gathered at "The Stones," mostly young men on bicycles who came from all the Wiltshire towns within easy distance, from Salisbury to Bath. I had a few good minutes at the ancient temple when the sight of the rude upright stones looking black against the moonlit and star-sprinkled sky produced an unexpected feeling in me: but the mood could not last; the crowd was too big and noisy, and the noises they made too suggestive of a Bank Holiday crowd at the Crystal Palace.
A foolish rabbit makes an appearance and hundreds of people shriek and run to catch it. Then lots of people start packing onto the fallen stones 'like guillemots on a rock' and start messing about. Nearer the sunrise some posh people in motorcars turn up and are all greeted with whoops and silly remarks until they hurry to hide themselves in the crowd. It all sounds very raucous.
He returns another time at 3am and sits there alone musing on time and the mystery of it all, and wishes somebody could psychically tune in and see something from the past. 'In the last few years' various stories had been circulating about a child from the London slums who'd had a vision there of 'a great gathering of people' but he reveals this to be untrue and traceable back to a local boy with a creative imagination. Perhaps it says something about the Edwardian interest in the paranormal?
from 'Afoot in England' by William Henry Hudson (1909).
Posted by Rhiannon
20th May 2010ce
Edited 20th May 2010ce